By Staff Sgt. Matt Meadows
4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq – A father and son deploying to Baghdad with the same active-duty unit is fairly unique; but when they only see each other about one week during the deployment, that is even more unusual.
Sgt. Maj. Ronald Slawson from Waynesville, Mo., and 2nd Lt. Shaun Slawson, his son from Leesville, La., both deployed with 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. However, the father and brigade operations sergeant major redeployed about a week after the son arrived as a late deployer.
Slawson met his son, a platoon leader assigned to the brigade's 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, at the helipad when he arrived on the base in mid November, and 2nd Lt. Slawson saw his dad off when he redeployed as part of the brigade's torch party a week later. Other than spending a couple of hours together and sharing a few meals, they really didn't see each other much.
"We haven't got to spend a whole lot of time together, but it is neat having him here," said the sergeant major. "I know his mother hates having both of us gone at the same time, but I'm proud of him; that he has done what he has done and he's over here and we're in the same brigade together.
"Of course she doesn't like either one of us being deployed, but she gets along with it," he continued. "She knows that's the life we live, and that's what we've got to do."
The younger Slawson said he thinks his mother worried more about him the first time he deployed, even though his dad stayed at home with her. This time around she knew her husband was returning shortly and her son was only deploying for a few months.
Just as the situation of a father and son being deployed together is uncommon, Slawson is not a typical second lieutenant fresh out of school without any military experience. To the contrary, he is a seasoned Soldier who deployed previously to Baghdad as an enlisted National Guard cavalry scout.
"I was one of four guys in my OBC [Officer Basic Course] that had prior deployment experience, and it definitely makes it a lot easier coming in here with these guys," explained Slawson. "They kind of look at you a little differently because they know you've had that experience and you've walked in their shoes before, especially being right here in Baghdad [before], patrolling just the other side of the [Tigris] River doing the exact same thing we are doing right now."
The younger Slawson joined the Guard as a 17-year-old high school student to pay for college after his father recommended service to him, "Son, we have got to figure out some way to pay for it, because pop doesn't make that much money." After completing 2.5 years of college, Slawson's unit was activated, and he deployed to Forward Operating Base Liberty from 2004 to 2005.
Following his first deployment, 2nd Lt. Slawson volunteered to remain activated for a short time to train Military Transition Teams with the 91st Training Division at Fort Carson, Colo. His leadership wanted Slawson to reenlist to go active duty, offering him a $10,000 bonus and an opportunity to travel to Hawaii. He called his parents to get their opinions, and his dad wasn't shy about letting his son know how he felt.
"I said hell no, bring your butt home and finish school. He only had a year and a half left," expressed the sergeant major. "It took some talking to convince him. He was telling me, 'Well, they are going to make me a sergeant.' I ... [said] come home and finish school. Once you finish school, if you want to go back out there and re-enlist ... that's fine but finish school first."
Although he really enjoyed what he was doing and wanted to remain on active duty at the time, the newly commissioned armor officer admitted he is glad he listened to his dad and made the right decision to finish school.
"I have never told him what to do in life. I've let him do what he has wanted to do; with that one exception when I told him to [come] home and go to school," commented Sgt. Maj. Slawson. "Other than that, he is going to do what he wants to do, just like I did when I grew up. I did what I wanted to do, [and] it didn't matter what my parents thought, except go to school."
The sergeant major might not dictate what his son does in life, but the elder Slawson did ask his son about his interest in coming to 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. to deploy with the same unit. At the time, 2nd Lt. Slawson was slated for an assignment with 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas. The son wasn't interested at first, but his father convinced him to change his mind.
"He only has 2.5 years until he retires, so I went ahead and made that decision," explained 2nd Lt. Slawson. "I think it would be cool to serve over here together right before he gets out. How many people have the opportunity to serve with their fathers in the same unit?"
Slawson is proud of his son's accomplishments and said he thinks he will continue to do well as an Army officer. He still has concern for his son's safety, however, as a father and senior enlisted Soldier.
"As a father, especially as a father who has been over here twice now, I know what he goes through out on the streets, and yeah, I do worry about him," expressed Slawson. "I do not want to see anything happen to him, just like I don't want to see anything happen to any of the other guys in the brigade, but even more so because he is my son."
Slawson said he has no problems saluting his son, but introducing him to comrades can be a little strange. "It is weird to bring my son in and introduce him to my peers [when] they say, 'Sir, how are you doing today?' versus what most fathers would think that their sons would be saying [which is] 'Sir, how are you today?' It's weird!"
Having a father who is the brigade operations sergeant major can be a bit uncomfortable for a new platoon leader. 2nd Lt. Slawson said his Soldiers teasingly refer to him as "the local superstar." He takes the teasing well though and knows he has to prove himself. Besides, he is still getting used to being an Army officer.
"It is still weird for me when people call me sir because of being prior enlisted," said 2nd Lt. Slawson. "It really hasn't struck me yet. I take the position I have seriously ... but being called sir by a sergeant major is definitely a different experience for me, and I'm sure it is for him too."
Even though they only had about a week together during this deployment, the Slawson father and son duo might have another opportunity to deploy together, or at least be stationed together for a couple of years at Fort Polk, La. Sgt. Maj. Slawson is trying to attain a position as the Fort Polk operations sergeant major. If that works out, both Slawson Soldiers will remain at the installation until the sergeant major retires, although they won't both be in the Patriot Brigade. If he does not get the post, Slawson will remain the operations sergeant major for 4th BCT and the two Slawson Soldiers might deploy together one more time.